Anyway I'm rambling on - it was a bit of a coup for the waste campaign groups to get Paul here - campaigner Sue Oppenheimer opened the meeting and editor of Glos Media, Ian Mean introduced Paul Connett (see picture below of Sue and Ian) - promising an 95 minutes of talk and no one falling asleep - well infact we got quite a bit more of talk and the meeting ran on well over 9.30 until after 10 with questions at the end. I doubt anyone fell asleep except perhaps 8 year old Little Miss Green (see more below)!
Paul's energy, passion and enthusiasm were something to behold but equally it was matched with science and argument - there was lots to learn although the whole thrust and arguments are well familiar to Greens - indeed it read a lot like a Green party manifesto. No that's unfair - most of our manifestos are pretty pretty dry, this was not - this was alive and just how we need to get the message out there to all parties and folk.
Well I was about to start writing about the talk itself then checked out the My Zero Waste site - although I've conversed with these folk and written a piece about waste on their site I hadn't met them - well they'd seen the talk advertised on my blog and I recognised them from photos. It was great to meet them as they are, like Paul, more than passionate about waste - their website is well worth a regular visit. Indeed they have a great new project with crisp packets - see it here.
Anyway they have already written up a great piece here is their bit below from their blog on 'My Zero Waste' taken from their excellent website - please only read on if you promise to visit their site as I've not asked them if I can use it! I finish with some additional comments on the evening from me and there are also some photos I took during the evening. It is also worth noting Paul's website - American Health Studies has some excellent videos and some of his powerpoint presentations - apparently this evenings one may well be available on that site in a week.
I’ve just got back from an excellent talk by Dr Paul Connett, Professor of Chemistry, St Lawrence University, New York.
Dr Connett has researched waste management issues for over 14 years and is a world leading expert in incineration. He has given over 2000 talks in 52 countries with the aim of bringing clarity to the issue of incineration and sustainability.
The meeting was hosted by Ian Mean, Editor of our local paper “The Citizen” who opened the meeting by saying that waste was one of the two biggest issues we currently face in Gloucestershire. The meeting was organised by supported of four local campaign groups - Glosain, Glosvain, SWARD and Gloucestershire Friends of the Earth.
Incineration: A poor solution
Dr Connett’s opening line was “Incineration: A poor solution for the twenty first century” and I knew we’re in for a riveting 1 1/4 hours.
One and a quarter hours is a long time to talk, and an even longer time to listen, but this flew by and before we knew it, people were queuing up to shake his hand, ask questions and Little Miss green had her head resting on my lap for sleep.
The talk was compelling; not one to dwell on the negative, the thrust was to focus on the solution - a call to action for a zero waste future. The message bought to us was that what we do as individuals has an impact on the world. Paul pointed out that during the 20th century, the focus was on waste management and how to get rid of waste efficiently and with minimal damage to our health and the environment. The 21st century focus needs to be on RESOURCE management and sustainability for future generations.
Consumption is key
The real problem, as Paul sees it, is fighting everyone’s over consumption. By the time a child is 16, they have watched 350,000 TV adverts; all telling them they can be sexy, intelligent, popular and happy if they buy x,y, and z. He pointed out that Development is measured by how quickly we can extract, produce, consume and waste something. See Annie Leonard’s “The story of stuff” below for a dynamic 20 minute talk on this.
Incinerators still need landfill!
Incinerators don’t challenge our consumption and they sabotage genuine moves towards sustainability. Incinerators also stifle innovation because you have to feed it. The shocking statistic I wasn’t fully aware of was that for every 4 tonnes of stuff you burn in an incinerator, you still have to LANDFILL 1 tonne of toxic ash.
Dioxins and toxins
We were then told about dioxins, and all the other toxins given off by incinerators such as mercury, cadmium, lead and arsenic and shown that dioxins accumulate in animal fat. This means you don’t even need to be living near an incinerator to suffer some of the negative effects. You simply need to eat the animals that have been grazing on nearby land to ingest dioxins. Once you get these dioxins in your system you can’t get rid of them; except for women, who can get rid of them by having a baby. Apparently any dioxins stored in your fat goes into your baby when you get pregnant.
Zero waste solutions
After all the facts about why we should avoid incineration, the rest of the talk was on the solution - the zero waste model. Comprising of things you would expect such as kerbside collections, home composting, recycling, reusing, repairing and moving into other lesser thought of areas such as de-constructing, economic incentives, waste reduction initiatives and better industrial design, Paul showed us how a zero waste future was possible.
He talked about many inspiring communities all across the world in Nova Scotia, Japan, Spain, California and Italy who were virtually sending zero to landfill and incinerating nothing. Areas where recycling programmes were in place, community composting was commonplace, refills were the norm and new parents were given free reusable nappies! To see some of these inspiring stories visit the American Environmental Health Studies videos page.
The message we were left with was that we had to teach the future generations how to separate their quality of life from material consumption; reiterating that if we continued as we are living now we would need another 2 - 4 planets to sustain us. He also optimistically told us that a threatened community is a strengthened one if people work together. He reminded us that change begins with every person talking to their friends and neighbours.
Spread the message
I hope you all feel great about that, because I know many of you talk to your friends and colleagues and you must keep doing that - you have no idea how far those ripples will spread in time.
At the end of the talk, Ian Mean called Dr Connett’s talk “Inspirational” He said “We really know why the UN wants him back and what I got was that we can all do something.”Now go and visit My Zero Waste - this post by My Zero Waste was here and finished with a short film about what you can do re waste - but there is plenty more to explore...
Anyway to some more discussion....
I had thought the whole talk was about this aspect as Paul is well known in this area of research - and I have to say I've had some reservations about this issue - there are many excellent good reasons why not to have an incinerator without needing to even look at this issue - see here my comments about incinerators. In fact I just got sent this comment that I respect alot from someone who has looked at this in some detail..."My personal view on the particulates, the PM2.5's, etc, which is "particulates, 2.5 micron or less", is that yes, there are some there, invisible to the eye, and yes, they can lodge deep in the lungs, BUT every diesel lorry and diesel train that passes produces similar, or potentially MORE damaging particulates healthwise. In oher words, I do not accept that vehicular particulates are less dangerous."
Taking into account this it could be argued that thermal treatment, gasification - not mass burn incineration, of the output from an MBT plant should be considered. By definition, this material has had all recyclates that can be practicably removed taken out, it is good for nothing. So the last ounce of value is the energy released by thermal treatment...others would argue landfill is the answer for this? It was certainly interesting the quotes Paul had about gassification and how there is more uncertainty than perhaps we have been led to believe - see screen shot of letter from Lurgi re gassification.
I have looked more closely at some of what has been written and I do think we should have very real concerns about nanoparticles....it is clear we need more research into this area. The precautionary principle means therefore that we should not add to existing problems with an incinerator - but landfill has it's own problems......I'd be interested to hear more on this issue.
"None of this changes the fact that the RIGHT solution is waste reduction at source: don't build it into products, don't buy wasteful products, minimise your own waste, treat as much waste as possible at the household and neighbourhood level. That would turn big, inflexible waste plants into white elephants. But we're not there yet, and right now we have to have practical, workable, cost effective and inevitably somewhat imperfect policies for our imperfect world."
Other bits of interest that Paul mentioned during his talk included:
- incinerators are the most expensive form of electricity generation
- Zurich's community composting identified the social aspects of getting to know neigbours as one of the most positive benefits of the project
- must take account of the value of reusable items like old furniture: many will remember my failed attempts to avert the closure of furniture recycling in Stroud - see here.
- Paul supported going plastic bag free - see my thoughts here.
- don't forget to factor in money spent on an incinerator leaves the community while alternatives are spent within the community eg more recycling, composting etc
- we heard about various ways to increase recycling - in one place Trashman visited a home each week and if they had no recycling in their bin they got £1,000 - I did suggest at the meeting this might be something for Glos Media and Mr Mean in lycra??
- What was good in the talk was the linking back to consumption - however the area I felt Paul didn't really address was how do we encourage and support people to reduce consumption? Yes taxes on packaging etc can help but there is a lot more to it.....more of that I'm sure in future posts...
- lots more but I've run out of pff writing this!
Anyway the event finished with Paul and David Purshase (see photo) singing with the audience joining in with an anti-incinerator song!
Lastly let me finish for now with my recent letter last month to local press here and a link to further details of the process in Gloucestershire here. I strongly recommend getting Paul's powerpoint presentation when it becomes available - there is also due out on a Youtube one of Pauls talks in Plymouth.